President Obama is on a four-day visit to India on the first leg of his tour of Asia. The keenly awaited event of this tour is the US president’s bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Of no less importance, however, was the meeting of Indian and American business executives, which led to $ 10 billion trade deals. The president brought along with him a 250-strong delegation of American business, emphasising the importance being given to economic cooperation during this visit.
At a time when the US is going through a hard time trying to achieve economic recovery and the Republicans have made unprecedented gains in mid-term elections, President Obama is looking for wide-ranging economic cooperation with India in the hope that this will lead to the creation of more jobs at home.. Therefore, the agenda of this visit is directed as much towards a domestic audience as to the Indian hosts. While the announced deals cover mostly non-military sales and trade, the US is looking for sale of big-ticket military equipment to India. India has relied more on the Soviet Union in the past and later Russia for its heavy weapons requirements. The procurement, logistics, arrangements and management of such weapons is a very complex affair. When a country has been virtually wedded to a single source, it is very difficult to switch to another one overnight. However, India started this process of diversification some time ago that is expected to continue, as evident from its interest in US technology and military equipment. If India agrees to buy big-ticket items, it will also provide a fillip to the US economy, whose biggest and leading component is the defence industry.
The US president’s visit to India is being observed with great interest in Pakistan. The government had expressed the hope that the US would bring up the issue of Kashmir with India during the visit. Given the US’s inclination towards long-term strategic relations with India, this hope seems no more than a daydream. President Obama has, however, spoken of Pakistan’s contribution in Afghanistan and the need for cooperation between the two countries. During his interaction with students of St Xavier’s College in Mumbai, while lauding the role of India in the development of Afghanistan, the US president took care to mention Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development. Moreover, another indication that the US considers its relations with Pakistan crucial was making no mention of Pakistan during President Obama’s speech expressing sympathies with the victims and survivors of the 2008 Mumbai attack, to the disappointment of hardline elements in India. The president stayed in Hotel Taj Mahal as a gesture of solidarity with India against terrorism. It is being expected that during his address to the Indian parliament, the US president would urge the two South Asian neighbours to make progress towards peace.
Obama may not have evoked the kind of warmth and enthusiasm that was seen during President George Bush’s visit to India in 2006 when the two countries signed the Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement. However, Obama’s initiation of his Asia tour with India and underscoring of the potential of India to become a major trade partner are part of US deference towards India and acceptance of its role as a major player in South Asia – Dailytimes